In 2022 alone, the American Cancer Society has indicated that there have been approximately 54,000 new cases of oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer. If that isn’t alarming enough, there have been an estimated 11,230 deaths by the same cause. Further, though the average age for diagnosing oral or oropharyngeal cancer is 63, the disease can also impact younger people. One in five cases occurs in patients under the age of 55. So what should we all know about oral cancer in order to recognize the signs early so that it doesn’t creep up on us? Let us tell you.

What do you need to know about oral cancer?

Oral cancer is an encompassing term for cancers of the mouth and the back of your throat. Oral cancer can develop in one of the following locations:

  • On the tongue
  • Alone the tissues lining the mouth and gums
  • Underneath the tongue
  • At the base of the tongue
  • On the area of the throat located at the back of the mouth

With an estimated 54,000 cases in 2022 alone, oral cancer accounts for about three percent of all cancers diagnosed yearly in the United States. Like we said, though in most cases, oral cancer hits those around age 63, it affects younger people as well.

What causes oral cancer?

In most cases, oral cancer is caused by one of the following conditions or behaviors.

  • Smoking and/or tobacco usage
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Age
  • Sun exposure (linked to cancer of the lip)
  • Certain medications

Since most of these causes, except for age, can be controlled, patients should understand that oral cancer is largely preventable. Awareness of the risk factors associated with oral cancer can help ensure that it doesn’t creep up on you.

What are the signs and symptoms of oral cancer?

Unfortunately, one of the reasons that many people don’t realize they have oral cancer until it has become much more severe is because the symptoms can seem like other illnesses, such as the common cold or food allergies. If you experience one or more of the following symptoms and they haven’t gone away after two or three weeks, it is time to call your doctor or dentist.

  • An irritating sore or lump in your mouth, lip, or throat
  • A white or red patch in your mouth
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or speaking
  • Feeling as though something is caught in your throat, and clearing your throat won’t make it go away
  • A sore throat
  • Difficulty or discomfort moving your jaw or tongue around
  • Dentures becoming uncomfortable or suddenly fit poorly due to swelling of your jaw
  • Numbness in your mouth or on your tongue
  • Pain in your ears (remember – the ears, nose, and throat are all connected)

Oral cancer can spread quickly. And since the symptoms can easily be mistaken for something else, this cancer can easily spread prior to a diagnosis. This makes oral cancer prevention all that much more essential to protect not only your oral health, but your overall health.

How to Prevent Oral Cancer

Though no cancer is entirely preventable, when it comes to oral cancer, there are some things you can do to decrease your risk of developing the disease. Here are our recommendations.

  • Get an oral cancer screening every six months (this can be done via a visual inspection at your dentist during your standard oral evaluation. If your dentist believes there is something suspicious, they can refer you for a cytology examination as a follow-up to your screening.
  • Refrain from starting up tobacco use. If you are a smoker or use tobacco, take the appropriate steps to stop altogether. Tobacco products, whether you chew them or smoke them, expose the cells in your mouth to cancer-causing chemicals.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation. Excessive alcohol consumption can irritate the cells in your mouth, making them more susceptible to oral cancer.
  • Protect your lips when you are out in the sun. Stay in the shade when you can and wear a lip balm with at least SPF 30+ to help block harmful UV rays.

How is oral cancer treated?

The specific treatment for your oral cancer will depend on where the cancer is located and whether or not it has spread. In most cases, you will be referred for treatment, which would entail removing the tumor and possibly the lymph nodes in your neck. For large tumors, a follow-on reconstruction surgery may be required. However, if the tumor is small and contained and there is no evidence that cancer has spread, surgery may be a sufficient treatment.

Most patients with early stages of oral cancer (stage I or II) respond well to surgery. However, radiation may be an additional recommended treatment, or a combination of radiation and chemotherapy along with the surgery.

Take steps to prevent oral cancer — request a screening today!

If you are experiencing signs or symptoms of oral cancer, or if it has been a while since you have been to the dentist, now is the time to request an appointment. Not only can the best dentist in Bloomington, Illinois, administer an oral cancer screening, but we can also ensure your teeth get a proper dental cleaning.

At Bloomington Modern Dentistry, we are uniquely poised to handle this part of your oral health and are often able to diagnose oral cancer before your primary care physician (PCP). With our approach and dedication to your oral health, we can not only help you keep your natural teeth for a lifetime, but we can help you lessen your risks for oral cancer too. Request an appointment today.